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For the all-important numbers like emergency services and the international access code, check out the Quick Reference section on the inside cover of this book. Every city has a general information service (Tell:1080) that provides everything from phone numbers and train and air timetables to exchange rates and the latest football scores. It even provides marriage counselling or bedtime lullabies for your child - no kidding! You can usually be connected to an operator who speaks English or French.
Domestic Calls
Phone numbers in Hanoi, HCMC and Haiphong have seven digits. Elsewhere around the country phone numbers have six digits. Telephone area codes are assigned according to the province. Local calls can usually be made from any hotel or restaurant phone and are often free. Confirm this with the hotel so you don't receive any unpleasant surprises when you check out. Domestic long-distance calls are reasonably priced and cheaper if you dial direct. Save up to 20% by calling between 10pm and Sam.
International Calls
Charges for international calls from Vietnam have dropped significantly in the past few years. With the introduction of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), international phone calls to most countries cost a flat rate of just US$0.50 per minute. The service is easy to use from any phone in the country; just dial ĐT: 17100, the country code and the number. International and domestic long-distance calls can be made at hotels, but it's expensive at the smarter places. However, many of the cheaper hotels and guesthouses now operate VOIP services which are very cheap. Another option is to make these calls from the post office, which have handy displays telling you the cost of the call. Reverse charges or collect calls are possible to most, but not all, Western countries including Australia, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and the USA.
Mobile (Cellular) Phones Vietnam is putting a lot of money into its cel¬lular network. Vietnam uses GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with most of Asia, Europe and Australia but not with North America. If your phone has roaming, it is easy enough, if expensive, to make calls in Vietnam. Another option is to buy a SIM card with a local number to use in Vietnam. There are at least six mobile phone companies battling it out in the local market with gimmicks galore to attract new customers. All these companies have offices and branches nationwide. Be aware that mobile-phone numbers in Vietnam start with the prefix Tell: 09 and cost more to call than a local number.
Most post offices and hotels offer fax services. Hotels charge considerably more than the post office.
Vietnam is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time/Universal Time Coordinated (GMT/UTC). Because of its proximity to the equator, Vietnam does not have daylight-saving or summer time. When it's noon in Vietnam it is 9pm the previous day in Vancouver- midnight in New York, Sam in London and 3pm in Sydney.
The issue of toilets and what to do with used toilet paper causes some concern. In general, if there's a wastepaper basket next to the toilet, that is where the toilet paper goes, as many sewage systems cannot handle toilet paper. Toilet paper is seldom provided in the toilets at bus and train stations or in other public buildings. You'd be. wise to keep a stash of your own with you at all times while on the move. Another thing to be mentally prepared for is squat toilets. For the uninitiated, a squat toilet has no seat for you to sit on while reading this guidebook; it's a hole in the floor. The only way to Mush it is to fill the conveniently placed bucket with water and pour it into the hole. Most hotels will have Western-style Joos, but squats are the norm in older hotels and public places. The scarcity of public toilets is more of a problem for women than for men. Vietnamese men often urinate in public. Women might find road-side toilet stops easier if wearing a sarong.
Tourist offices in Vietnam have a different philosophy from the majority of tourist offices worldwide. These government-owned enterprises are really travel agencies whose primary interests are booking tours and turning a profit. Don't come here hoping for freebies. Vietnam Tourism and Saigon Tourist are old examples of this genre, but nowadays every province has at least one such organisation. Travel cafes, budget agencies and your fellow travellers are a much better source of information than any of the so-called 'tour ist offices'.
Vietnam is not the easiest of places for disabled travellers, despite the fact that many Vietnamese are disabled as a result of war injuries. Tactical problems include the chaotic traffic, a lack of pedestrian footpaths, a lack of lifts in smaller hotels and the ubiquitous squat toilets. That said, with some careful planning it is possible to have a relatively stress-free trip to Vietnam. Find a reliable company to make the travel arrangements and don't be afraid to double-check things with hotels and restaurants yourself. In the major cities many hotels have lifts and disabled access is improving. Bus and train travel is not really geared up for disabled travellers, but rent a private vehicle with a driver and almost anywhere becomes instantly accessible. As long as you are not too proud about how you get in and out of a boat or up some stairs, anything is possible, as the Vietnamese are always willing to help.